With Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox , VA, in April, 1865, most of the fighting ended. What followed was mainly a mop-up operation and a long military occupation of much of the South by the victorious Yankees.
Confederate Memorial Day still draws thousands in the South to commemorate the gallantry of a rag-tag, last-stand army, fighting bravely for an independent South. The day is celebrated at various times in the South, but typically includes visits to cemeteries where the Confederate dead lie by the thousands. The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans lead in the ceremonies and rituals to keep their history of the war alive and vivid. Typically, the fighting qualities of Confederate officers and enlisted men are remembered.
But south of Watkinsville, Georgia, in the well-kept Huff Family Cemetery at 3071 Colham Ferry Road, the Laura Rutherford Chapter of the UDC and other patriotic groups on April 21 honored a civilian couple—Green A. and Nancy Ann Pilgrim. The Pilgrims were residents in what was then the southern part of Clarke County, not far from the Huff Cemetery. Later that part of Clarke County would become Oconee County. Green Pilgrim was born in South Carolina. He moved to Georgia and married Nancy in 1855 in nearby Greene County. Green was born in 1818 and Nancy in 1831. By 1858, the Greens had a baby girl and named her Mary E. Pilgrim. In 1859, a son was born, Isaac Bartow Pilgrim.
In just a few years, war would turn the lives of the Pilgrim family upside down. Green was about 43 years old when the Civil War started. During the war, the Confederacy could have conscripted him for military service. Green was on the muster roll of the 16th Regiment, 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Division of the Georgia Militia. But he was exempted in 1862 from military service to work at the Roswell Mills in Roswell, GA. Nancy was also a mill worker. The mills on Vickery Creek were a big operation and made cloth for military uniforms, tents and other materials desperately needed by the Confederate troops. Basically, the Confederacy took over these mills at Roswell and mills at New Manchester, Georgia, about 15 miles west of Atlanta, and the ruins are in the Sweetwater Creek State Park.
On April 21, Confederate Memorial Day was celebrated at the Huff Cemetery, bringing together about a hundred persons. The highlight was the dedication of a large grave marker for Nancy and Green Pilgrim. On the front side is an account of what happened to them and their children in July, 1864, when they were among about 400-600 workers arrested for "treason" by Gen. William T. Sherman and forced to leave Roswell for the North for the duration of the Civil War. On the rear side of the Green's attractive grave stone are their names and dates of birth and death. Previously the only marker was a rugged field stone with Nancy's initials crudely carved on it. The Laura Rutherford Chapter of the UDC erected the tombstone. Most of the workers were women, sometimes accompanied by children. A few men also were employed because of rare skills, disabilities or old age which limited their use as soldiers.
Workers at the New Manchester Mills were similarly engaged in producing goods for the Confederate armies. All told, probably about 600 workers were mill hands at the Roswell and New Manchester establishments.
Led by General Sherman, the Union troops were on the verge of capturing Atlanta. He sent Brig. Gen. Kenner Garrard and his cavalry on a flanking movement , and Kenner burst into undefended Roswell on July 5, 1864. Mill hands had been instructed to work until the last possible moment to turn out military necessities. General Garrard saw the strategic value of the Roswell Mills. After removing workers, he burned the entire operation, with General Sherman's approval. The New Manchester mills were likewise destroyed.
General Sherman took a highly unusual step, giving orders that all the mill workers and supervisors and their families should be rounded up and arrested for treason.
"The women, their children, and the few men. . . were transported by wagon to Marietta and imprisoned in the Georgia Military Institute which had been abandoned," wrote Caroline Matheny Dillman for The Civil War in Georgia: A New Georgia Encylopedia Companion." The prisoners were then given nine days' rations, ". . . loaded into boxcars that proceeded through Chattanooga and Nashville en route to Louisville, Kentucky, the final destination for many of the workers. Others were sent across the Ohio River to Indiana," she wrote.
Thus General Sherman not only destroyed the mills but dispersed the workers so they could do no harm to Union operations. Information differs as to what exactly happened to the displaced mill employees. Some apparently were forced to be indentured servants, and some worked for farmers. None were tried for treason. But women workers were separated from their husbands fighting in the Confederate armies, and from their other family members, unless they were all herded together in the North as mill workers.
One-eyed Green Pilgrim and his wife Nancy were in the forced move, along with their children. Both Green and Nancy got small pox but survived.
"First housed and fed in a Louisville refugee hospital, the women later took what menial jobs and living arrangements could be found," said writer Dillman. "Those in Indiana struggled to survive, many settling near the [Ohio] River, where eventually mills provided employment.
Not only Southern newspapers, but also Northern publications reflected outrage against General Sherman's actions. Union General George H. Thomas had written to General Sherman about what to do with the mill employees. "The Roswell factory hands, 400 or 500 in number, have arrived in Marietta. The most of them are women. I can only order transportation to Nashville where it seems hard to turn them adrift. What had best be done with them," he asked General Sherman.
Sherman replied: "I have ordered General Webster at Nashville to dispose of them. They will be sent to Indiana."
Author Mary Deborah Petite has written a well documented book about the Roswell mill workers' ordeal, The Women Will Howl: the Union Army Capture of Roswell and New Manchester, Georgia, and the Forced Relocation of Mill Workers.
"It is difficult to rationalize the arrest and deportation of innocent women and children, but there can be no rationalization or justification for sending them to the fate that awaited them north of the Ohio River. The mill workers were not spies or traitors, nor did they pose a serious threat to the Federal army, particularly now that the mills were destroyed," she wrote.
Many of the displaced workers never made it back to Georgia, marrying in the North and bearing children there. But quite a few made their way at the end of the war. Petite's extensive research turned up a number of their names, stories and photographs. At the end of the war, the Pilgrims were fortunate to return to Marietta, Georgia, on the train, but they had to walk back to what is now Oconee County and renew normal lives. In 1866 they had a third child, George Thomas Pilgrim. Green Pilgrim took the loyalty oath to the federal government in 1866 and farmed in the county. He was a respected citizen and was elected several times as county coroner. He died in 1893, but Nancy lived until 1931, when she died at 100.
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At the ceremonies in the Huff Cemetery, the Pilgrims were honored. Trumpeter James Edwin Bush, Jr. of the 37th Regiment, Washington, GA Confederates, played "Bonnie Blue Flag" and twice played "Dixie."
Presentations by members of the Roswell Mills Camp #1547, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Brig. Gen. T. R. R. Cobb Camp #97, Sons of Confederate Veterans were made. The colors were presented by the 18th Georgia Volunteer Army Color Guard dressed in Confederate uniforms. They led the Pledge of Allegiance, and fired a salute to honor the Pilgrim family. Elaine Collier Neal, president of the Laura Rutherford Chapter, played a leading role in organizing the unusual ceremony honoring civilians and in obtaining the memorial stone for the graves of Nancy and Green Pilgrim, survivors of the "Roswell incident." Dozens of other lovers of Civil War history helped organize the marker dedication and included cemetery officials, a minister and many members of several organizations
Participants and spectators ended the ceremony by joining hands and singing "Blest Be The Tie That Binds."